COTONOU, Benin (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday led tens of thousands of people in a panoply of African tongues during a Mass in the national soccer stadium of the African nation of Benin, wrapping up a pilgrimage in which he laid out his spiritual vision for the continent.
Before boarding a plane to leave Africa, the 84-year-old pontiff made a plea to Africa to work toward reconciliation and to be an example of fraternity.
Earlier Sunday, an estimated 80,000 people bowed their heads in prayer in the arena in the commercial capital Cotonou as the pope blessed the crowd. Women who had not made it inside knelt in the parking lot and prayed. People formed a line outside starting at 3 a.m., said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The Mass reflected the potential for harmony in Africa, with the liturgy delivered in at least 10 African languages and simultaneously broadcast in St. Peter's Square in Rome.
It included an acclamation in Congo's principal language, Lingala, a prayer for peace in Nigeria's Yoruba, followed by other parts of the liturgy in Ditamari, Mina, Bariba, Idaacha, and Lokpa — all languages spoken by Benin's roughly 9 million people.
Nowhere is Catholicism growing more rapidly than on this continent of a thousand tongues which has helped breathe life into a church that has seen a steep decline in numbers of active faithful in Europe.
The pope's vision of the continent, formally delivered on Sunday to Africa's bishops in the form of an 87-page document known as a treatise, has been called a “papal road map” for Africa.
It applies church doctrine to address the continent's ills, especially the wars and conflicts caused by ethnic divisions. The strategy proposes a “sacrament of reconciliation,” using the church's doctrine of forgiveness and the Christian concept of turning the other cheek in a bid to stem the cycle of retribution.